Parental Advisory: Idols are F**ked up


Our recently acquired Wine Before Breakfast percussionist, Professor Stephen Scharper, wrote a wonderful piece on the op-ed page of last Monday’s Toronto Star celebrating Bruce Cockburn’s memoir Rumours of Glory which was released on November 4. (“Troubadour in a Dangerous Time,” Toronto Star, Monday, November 3, 2014, A15.) Now it doesn’t take much to get me thinking about Cockburn (as you all know), but our special WBB service this Sunday evening at the Church of the Redeemer – Rumours of Glory: Cockburn, Liturgy and Hope – and the way in which our psalm this week (Ps. 115) focuses on idolatry, does bring to mind Cockburnesque thoughts.

Bruce Cockburn doesn’t usually get a “parental advisory” warning slapped on his albums. But it happened on his 1986 recording, World of Wonders. The offending word was “fuck” and you can see the context in which the word appears in these verses from his hard-hitting anti globalization song, “Call it Democracy.”

Sinister cynical instrument
Who makes the gun into a sacrament —
The only response to the deification
Of tyranny by so-called “developed” nations’
Idolatry of ideology

North South East West
Kill the best and buy the rest
It’s just spend a buck to make a buck
You don’t really give a flying fuck
About the people in misery

Now if the word was only explicitly used here, that would have been enough to get the “parental advisory” warning back in the 80’s. But when you then listen to the chorus, where the word is not used, but implied, well, you can see folks getting upset.

IMF dirty MF
Takes away everything it can get
Always making certain that there’s one thing left
Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt

The IMF – the International Monetary Fund – is a dirty MF.

You don’t need too much imagination to figure that one out.

What occasioned Cockburn’s rage was the dictatorial regimes of Central America bowing to IMF “structural adjustments” of their economy that would pave the way for international investors controlling these economies for their own profit to the economic, ecological, and social detriment of the poorest of the poor in these countries. And since this was all under the guise of democracy you can see a Christian artist with a sense of what it means to love your neighbour getting pretty pissed off.

But Cockburn’s rage went deeper. He saw a demonically distorted spiritual dynamic at work.

The gun is made into a sacrament – a distorted means of grace and salvation.

And tyranny is deified – made into a god – precisely through the so-called developed nations’ “idolatry of ideology.”

When you don’t give a flying fuck about the people in misery,
when you are happy to rape their land,  wipe out whole towns of peasants,
encourage the ownership of the land by very few families
(all in bed with multinational corporations),
strip the nation of its natural resources,
allow education and health care to become almost non-existent,
and in the process leave the nation with insupportable debt for generations to come,
then it sure looks like some sort of idolatry is afoot.

Only idolatry can explain this sacrifice of people, land and the future.
Idols require sacrifice, and they have an insatiable appetite for children.

This is an “idolatry of ideology”, and in the 80’s you didn’t need to go further than Chicago to find which ideology we are talking about.

The “Chicago School” of economics,
the Milton Friedman absolutization of profits,
privatization and non-interventionist government support of the Market
is the ideology that Cockburn sees as an idol.

Naomi Klein calls this the “Shock Doctrine of Disaster Capitalism.”
And there is a lot of blood in the hallowed halls of the University of Chicago
(not to let our own U of T economists of the time off the hook.)

And what else can you say in the face of such idolatry other than “fuck.”

That’s what idols do – they fuck you.
They violate, abuse, hurt and humiliate.

So when you get in bed with idols, then don’t be surprised if you get fucked.

If you want biblical justification for this kind of language, just read Hosea.
That dude should have got a parental advisory warning slapped on his book.

Psalm 115 doesn’t use this kind of a violent sexual metaphor when talking about idolatry.

No, this psalmist simply offers this observation/curse:

“Those who make them are like them;
so are all who trust in them.”

Or the way Calvin Seerveld renders Psalm 115.8:

“Like them become those who make them.
Like them become those who get to feel secure with them.”

In other words, when we bow the knee to idols, we start looking like them,
when we worship a graven image,
we get deformed in that image.

Psalm 115 is as profound a critique of idolatry,
as it is a beautiful testimony to how God replaces the curse of such idolatry
with the blessing of fruitful life in the good creation.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian and the CRC Campus Minister at the University of Toronto. He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

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